Throughout my entire life I've had an incredibly difficult time focusing. Growing up I really loved learning, but my grades suffered because I couldn’t get myself to focus outside of class, and homework usually made up half of my grade. I was diagnosed with ADD at 17, and whether or not you believe it is a real affliction, the fact is, some of us have a MUCH harder time focusing than others. (Not sure how it took them until I was 17 to realize I had ADD. Check out this preschool class photo:)
In any case, If you feel like you are running in circles and can’t focus long enough to make progress on your projects, I feel you. Here are some things that work for me:
Identify your goals -
The first step to focusing on your passion is to figure out what you are actually trying to do. You may have a million things that you like doing, and you’re not sure which one you want to focus on. FIGURE THAT OUT. You can always change your mind later. Make a decision and get started! Otherwise you’re just treading water. You don’t have to give up any of your passions to start working. While sometimes it’s great to have a very targeted audience, if you absolutely can’t eliminate things without eliminating part of your authenticity, decide on a way to make it work. For me, I was in love with music, travel and social media. I decided to intertwine them and to start this blog. Just decide on SOMETHING. Once your idea has some boundaries, you can learn to eliminate all of the things that don’t support you in that endeavor. Also, know that projects evolve and it's okay to still have some doubts. This blog will probably be totally different a year from now. I may look back on this article and laugh at myself. Who knows.. But what I do know is that no matter what you want to do in life the first step is always to start.
Identify your distractions -
Once you have identified what your goals are, make a list the activities that distract you most frequently. (Netflix, Pokemon Go, Snapchat.. those are some of mine currently.) Rather than cutting them out completely, Give yourself a set amount of time for them that you feel gives you adequate time to focus on your goals. If you find yourself unable to stop at the end of the allotted time, you may need to take some time off. While it may not be comfortable for you to sit and wonder if there is a wild Pikachu running around outside your house, it’s much more uncomfortable to let months go by without getting any work done. This also applies to work that feels similar to your goals but isn’t really helping you in any way. Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art and Turning Pro, calls these “Shadow Careers” Jobs that resemble your passion but aren’t the real thing. (i.e. Working at a record store because you want to be an artist. It's fun and makes you feel a little bit satisfied, but it's not your goal.) Figure out what distracts you, and what is taking the place of your real dreams, and exchange that for passion projects.
MAKE LISTS - Don’t try to do too much -
A common challenge when trying to get work done is spreading your attention around to a million things. Multitasking can really slow down your progress. If you don’t have a breakdown of what it is you actually need to accomplish, you may stress out thinking you have a lot more to do. I start by writing a long list of every single thing I can think of that I need/want to do. Then I break that down into urgent - kind of urgent - and not urgent. Clever titles, I know.. Anyway, the point is.. Some things directly affect your goals. Things you MUST do that are DIRECTLY RELATED to your project go on the top of the list. Once your list is broken down, start with ONE THING. Focus on that one before you move onto the next.
Take Breaks -
Sometimes not taking a break will cause us to burn ourselves out way sooner than is necessary. I have found the Pomodoro technique to be really helpful. It helps you focus on what your most important tasks are, and sets a timer for intervals of work and breaks. Even a 5 minute break to get your head out of the work for a short time can help clear space to pump out something even better.
Put the phone away -
I understand sometimes you need your phone for your work. But unless you’re waiting on a specific call at a specific time, you should put your phone somewhere that you won’t see it if a notification pops up. Better yet, put your phone on "do not disturb" mode and you won’t get notifications while you’re working. Even when I think I'm focused, if my phone lights up, I always look over. Check your phone when you have completed your tasks. Make it a prize for productive behavior, not a habit.
Unsubscribe from emails that you don’t read -
I have subscribed to so many things over the years. Sometimes to complete a purchase, sometimes because I was interested in something, sometimes for a contest, etc. My email inbox was full of sales and discounts and ads and things that I had no need for. These things clutter up your brain and your inbox. If seeing little red notification flags gives you as much unnecessary anxiety as it gives me, this will help you keep that space clear. Seeing that you have 1,000 emails in your inbox can make you feel overwhelmed. Next time you go through your emails, if one pops up that you see often and don't need, just open it, click the unsubscribe button, get past the "we are so sad to see you go.. is there anything we can do?" page with the crying emoji and delete the clutter!
Get MORE Sleep!
I often hear people saying “I’m fine on 4 or 5 hours of sleep! I feel great.” Well, to those people I say this - You are selling yourself short! If you think you’re productive and healthy now, imagine how much more of a badass you would be if your body was actually performing at it’s full potential! Lack of sleep can build up until all of a sudden you’re exhausted and you can’t figure out why! You may feel “fine” on 4 hours of sleep, and while our bodies are made to mostly function on their own, they don’t always tell us what we need until it’s way past necessary. And who just wants to feel fine when you can feel vibrant!? This leads me to my next suggestion:
Drink a TON of water, especially in the morning -
We all know that our bodies are made mostly of water and that we can’t survive without it. We literally can’t do ANYTHING without it. After a (hopefully) long night of sleep your body needs extra water since it has used up a lot of it getting your body back on track. Again, we all might feel okay drinking a few glasses of water a day, but I can tell you this, when I start my day with a liter of water and make sure to drink AT LEAST 2 more during the day, my mind is much clearer. Not to mention the added benefits of better digestion, more energy, younger looking skin, etc etc. I feel so lucky to have water readily available that I can drink out of the sink in most places! (I learned to appreciate this much more when I was overseas and this wasn’t an option.) Drink more water.
One thing that has helps me immensely every time I try to start a new project is doing my morning pages. If you haven’t heard of them yet, WATCH THIS VIDEO. It’s an overview of Julia Cameron’s method of morning journaling. It gets all of the jumbled thoughts out of your head before you start your day and helps you move the unnecessary thoughts and worries out of the way so your passion can get through.
Quiet your mind -
There is a reason everyone is talking about the Headspace App. Meditation can work wonders. While our bodies remember to breathe to keep us alive, they are usually doing just enough to get us by. Sometimes we need to breathe deep and focus on being present. When I’m really overwhelmed and only have a few minutes, I hit the SOS meditation and in 3 minutes I feel so much more calm and focused. Meditation can seem daunting to people who have really loud minds. That’s is why I love this app. I would try to sit in silence and my thoughts would just get louder. With headspace, the guided meditations give you something to focus on, while also giving you room to sit in silence. It trains your mind to be quieter and eventually you'll have no trouble sitting in silence.
Some of these seem like common sense, huh? Well, it's been said that “Common sense is not always common practice.” Sometimes we need a reminder to do the the things we already know we should be doing. Exercise gives you energy and endorphins and enhances your mental clarity and stamina to get through the parts of your project that seem more like work than play. Get out there and take a walk! Or there's always skating, tennis, parkour, dancing, swimming... exercise doesn't have to suck. If you hate running or going to the gym, find something you think is fun.
AVOID PROCESSED SUGAR
Oh my gosh I can’t stress this one enough. I’m not going to say you need to immediately cut out everything that you eat, or that you can never have your favorite ice cream again, but I can tell you for sure that processed sugar is a CLARITY KILLER. If you can manage to cut it out completely, amazing!! Good for you! If the idea of giving up sugar gives you a panic attack, take baby steps. Skip the cream filled pastry in the morning. Cut down on the sugar you add to your coffee. Try drinking herbal tea at night instead of soda. Starting your day with a heaping spoonful of processed sugar may make you feel productive for about 9 minutes, but it’s sure to cause a crash really early on. It’s not easy to bounce back from a sugar crash. Sugar late in the day can make your energy really low while at the same time hindering your ability to fall asleep. Wait, it makes you tired but also makes you lose sleep? That doesn’t make sense. Yeah well, life doesn’t always make sense, ok!? ;)
Do me a favor and just give these things a try. Start by doing them for one week. That doesn’t seem too hard, right? I have a hunch that these are habits you’ll want to keep
Until next time my sweets!